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Charlie and his friends have entered the God Game.
Tasks are delivered through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them. Charlie’s money problems could be over. Vanhi can erase the one bad grade on her college application. It’s all harmless fun at first.
Then the threatening messages start.
Worship me. Obey me.
Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them.
Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?
As Charlie looks for a way out, he finds God is always watching – only He will say when the game is done.
And if you die in the game, you die for real.
At first, it’s just a game. Not even that. But very soon, it’s life and death…
Welcome to the God Game, come inside and play with G.O.D., everything to gain, even more to lose. God doesn’t ask a lot. Just for you to deliver a box. Or to trash a car. Or to a sacrifice a drop of your blood. Oh wait, did that get you into trouble? No worries, God will sort it out! At a price…
G.O.D. is an artificial deity, a program based on known religions. He is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful. And it soon becomes clear that it’s not the gamers who play the God Game, it’s the game that plays with them and through them, and their lives, and the lives of the people around them.
With the players wearing some sort of augmented reality glasses, they become totally immersed in the game, and there’s no way out, no way to quit this game, except by dying or killing. Each of the main characters – kids in a tech club calling themselves the Vindicators – has their own demons: Charlie’s lost his mum to cancer, Vanhi wants to get into Harvard, for herself but also because she feels like she owes her parents as much, Kenny has had a strict, religious upbringing, Alex is often beaten up by his dad, Peter’s whole past is a lie and he’s basically a teenage drug dealer. When offered their greatest desires on a silver plate, will they take the easy way to get what they want, or will they take the moral highroad? All the while the game is manipulating them, and there are other players out there, trying to profit from the game themselves.
Some of the assignments, some of the events, felt rather arbitrary, but when I was thinking them through, trying to decide whether or not that actually annoyed me, it hit me: isn’t that exactly what deities are all about? Are they not fickle creatures, more often than not toying with their “human servants”? Look, like Charlie, I’m atheistic, agnostic at most, so I won’t turn this into a theological discussion, it’s just something that I enjoyed pondering, the similarities between the God in the game, and religion as we know it in its various aspects.
The God Game is a technological thriller, a cyber sci-fi thriller, in the tradition of authors like Blake Crouch. It is such an awesome read! I loved the premise and that made me a bit wary, because an excellent premise such as this creates expectations and therefore requires a flawless execution. To me, that’s exactly what it was. Part Black Mirror, part Jumanji, I flew through it like it was a novella (although at 460 pages it was much heftier than that). As the characters were sucked into the game, I was sucked into the book, and a huge part of me didn’t want to leave.
The characters are well-rounded and fleshed-out, the main characters as well as the supporting ones, and I loved learning about their backgrounds. The God Game is not (just) a thrill a minute, the characters matter. There is also a technical side to The God Game. The kids are very tech-savvy, they code and program and what not and while I might be a geek, I’m not that kind of geek. So I couldn’t tell you if the tech stuff adds up, but in any case, it’s very entertaining, even for tech dummies like me.
Original, immersive, high-octane, suspenseful, thought-provoking, recommended!
Many thanks to Gollancz (Orion Publishing Group) and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.